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Egypt general defends virginity tests

CAIRO: An Egyptian general has admitted that the military conducted forced “virginity tests” on female protesters in March, CNN reported, actions that have outraged Egyptian activists who called for demonstrations to condemn the incident.

“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the U.S. broadcaster quoted the senior general, who asked not to be identified, as saying. “We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.”

“These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs],” he said.

Activists on online social networking sites scrambled to organize demonstrations to condemn the military’s actions in the wake of the CNN report.

“Women were in the front lines in Tahrir. They have always played a role and they deserve for their dignity to be regained,” wrote one group of activists on their Facebook page. Activists and bloggers say they will hold a day of online protest Wednesday to voice their outrage, adding to criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country from ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

In the face of the criticism, four journalists along with a prominent blogger were summoned for questioning by the military prosecutor, a rights group said. They were released without charges.

Hossam al-Hamalawy, a blogger, tweeted: “The visit to the military prosecutor became a chat, where they wanted clarifications for my accusations.”

The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters and the army intervened forcefully to clear the square.

One woman who was arrested spoke out about her treatment, and Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.

The military council denied soldiers attacked protesters at the March 9 rally. But one general used a news conference to make negative remarks about women who mingle with men during the sit-ins and suggested lewd acts were taking place in protest camps.

“There were girls with young men in one tent. Is this rational? There were drugs; pay attention!” Gen. Ismail Etman, the council spokesman, said at the end of March.

One of the women arrested, Salwa al-Husseini, gave a detailed account at a news conference in March of her treatment and said she was made to undergo a virginity test. She added that she was slapped in the face and subjected to electric shocks in her legs before being taken to a military prison.

“When we went to the military prison, me and the girls, we were placed in a room with two doors and a window. The two doors were wide open,” she said. “The girl takes off all her clothes to be searched while there were cameras outside filming to fabricate prostitution charges against us later on,” she added.

“The girl who says she is single, she undergoes a test by someone; we don’t know if he is a soldier or some kid on their behalf,” she said.

Amnesty International said in its report that one of the women told her jailers she was a virgin but was beaten and given electric shocks when the test supposedly proved otherwise.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said Tuesday that the questioning of journalists or bloggers was an attempt to silence critics and create “an atmosphere of fear.”

Meanwhile, Egypt’s public prosecutor said Tuesday that Mubarak was in no condition to be transferred to a prison hospital and would remain in a health facility in a Red Sea resort for the time being.

Egyptian exec faces sex abuse charges at NY hotel

NEW YORK: A businessman and former chairman of a major Egyptian bank faces charges of sexually abusing a maid at a luxury Manhattan hotel, just weeks after the arrest of a former International Monetary Fund chief on similar allegations.

Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar was arrested Monday and is accused of sexually abusing a maid at The Pierre, a luxurious hotel near Central Park and Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, police said.

The maid was called to Omar’s room Sunday night to drop off tissues, police said. But once inside the 74-year-old’s room, police said Omar would not let her leave and touched her inappropriately. The encounter was not reported until Monday, police said.

Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, said detectives found the complainant to be credible.

Omar was held Monday night at a police precinct and transferred Tuesday morning to a booking facility near a Manhattan courthouse.

Omar is currently the board chairman of the El-Mex Salines Co., a state-run salt production company, according to the company’s website. Omar is the former chairman of Egypt’s Bank of Alexandria.

The Pierre said in a statement that it will “fully comply with the investigation.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 01, 2011, on page 8.
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